Submission of the Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa Ministry of Education (Governance Review)
On the “Review of the legislative settings for wānanga governance”
12th November 2013
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The Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa (TEU) welcomes this opportunity to respond to the consultation document Review of the legislative settings for wānanga governance’.
The TEU is the largest union and professional association representing staff in the tertiary education sector (in universities, institutes of technology/polytechnics, wānanga, private training establishments, and REAPs). Our members recognise the important role that councils paly in decision-making within institutions, and the extent to which these decisions can directly affect student learning and the many responsibilities of staff (within and outside the institution). TEU members also recognise the importance of retaining and strengthening important values that underpin the work of our wānanga, including broad-based and democratic participation in decision-making and ensuring that our public institutions reflect the needs and values of our society and communities.
General comments about the proposal
The objectives outlined in the consultation document (page 6) are better reflections of the work wānanga are expected to undertake. We are therefore broadly supportive of the changes proposed. However the detail of implementation of these changes raises some concerns for us.
The TEU is concerned that overall the proposal to review legislative settings for wānanga councils is premised on a poorly-evidenced argument that the current representative model limits the ability of these councils to respond to changing environments, populations, and skill and knowledge requirements. The proposal provides no credible evidence or argument to support this claim.
Additionally, the proposal argues that changes are needed to ensure wānanga are able to meet a number of identified future challenges. In fact, these challenges are not new – wānanga are already well underway in terms of addressing these and a myriad of other issues that they must face in an increasing complex society. The proposal provides no compelling argument that a change to the governance model for wānanga would assist in meeting these challenges.
Further, we are concerned that limiting the representative composition of wānanga councils (in particular staff and student representation), may mean that these institutions are less able to adapt or respond to changing demands and circumstances.
We acknowledge and support the proposal to ensure that council membership better reflects wānanga characteristics; however this should not occur at the expense of broader representation within the council structure. Staff feel invested in an institution when they are directly involved in its governance. The presence of students in governance roles helps to ensure responsiveness to student needs and interest – particularly important when the democratic voice for students has been largely shut down as a result of the legislative changes brought about with amendments making membership of student unions voluntary.
Of particular concern is the proposal’s implication that the current representative model is ineffective and negatively affects the ability of wānanga councils to fulfil their duties. Other than the proposal to emphasise the need to ensure that council members are capable of governing wānanga according to tikanga and āhuatanga Māori, what is the evidence base to support the claim that the current model has been ineffective?
The TEU is concerned that when assessed next to the proposals in the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-2019 ((Ministry of Education. October 2013. ‘Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-2019’ Wellington, New Zealand)) , the other changes outlined for wānanga councils are simply mechanisms to further push market and business models onto the sector, at the cost of core goals for wānanga – set out in the Education Act 1989 (and subsequent amendments), section 162(4)(a) and (b). At no point does the Act state that a core characteristic of wānanga is that they are businesses.
In October 2012, the TEU delivered a copy of our position paper “Independence, responsible autonomy, and public control: they keys to good governance in tertiary education” ((Grey, Sandra. 16 August 2012 ‘Independence, responsible autonomy, and public control: the keys to good governance in tertiary education’. Position paper prepared for the Tertiary Education Union. Retrieved from https://teu.ac.nz/2012/10/independence-responsible-autonomy-and-public-control-the-keys-to-good-governance-in-tertiary-education/)) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, and other MPs. In this paper we argue that:
Ensuring strong tertiary education governance is crucial if our universities, polytechnics, wānanga and other places of education are to fulfil their roles as leaders in social, economic, human, environmental, and scientific progress.
The position paper also presents a number of core principles that need to underpin decisions about tertiary sector governance:
- Diversity is necessary for the health of the tertiary education sector, including diversity between and inside governance bodies and institutions themselves
- Tertiary education institutions require autonomy from the political, social, and economic elite of the nation in order to best serve the interests of all New Zealanders
- Institutional autonomy enables the academic freedom so crucial to economic, social, scientific, and human discovery
- Including staff, student, and community representation in the governance bodies of the tertiary education sector will ensure educational and pedagogical decisions will be at the centre of decision-making
- Good decision-making in the tertiary education sector requires sound, open, and on-going input from those who work and study in the tertiary education sector
- Staff, student, and community involvement in tertiary education decision-making is necessary in order for these groups to have confidence in the decisions made.
Some of these principles are reflected in the review proposals (specifically highlighting the need to ensure stakeholder representation reflects wānanga characteristics), however many fall far short of these principles, which are also reflected in the Education Act. If changes to the governance structures of universities and wānanga occur, they must be based on these principles, which would ensure open and democratic processes, and a return to public control and responsible autonomy for the institutions themselves. ‘Corporatising’ these structures will only further remove them from the communities they are set up to serve.
Responses to the consultation questions
1. What do you consider are the advantages/disadvantages of this proposal to decrease the size of wānanga councils?
Wānanga are large and complex institutions, with multiple campuses throughout the country. They must maintain relationships with a wide range of iwi, community, research, and business relationships, both nationally and internationally. They must manage and support a diverse staff population and respond to the needs of an equally diverse student population. Supporting quality teaching, learning and research and advancing knowledge regarding āhuatanga and tikanga Māori is the cornerstone of what makes a wānanga. Therefore it is critical that their governance structures reflect this diversity and complexity. This is best achieved through a broad-based membership with a large enough range of voices, skills and experience so that issues and decisions can be thoroughly debated.
A reduction in council size will mean the loss of this diversity and will affect the quality of decision-making. A reduction in size and representation may mean decisions made on narrower criteria, risking these reflecting a much narrower view. With a greater emphasis on purely economic outcomes for tertiary education (as is seen in the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-2019), and little reference to its broader value, our concern would be that this dominant paradigm would be uncontested in future decision-making.
2. What do you consider are the advantages/disadvantages of this proposal to make council membership requirements more flexible?
Other than the proposal to ensure that wānanga are able to include stakeholders that reflect their unique status and relationships, we see no particular advantages in the proposed changes. Within the current membership requirements, there is considerable room to incorporate specific skills, knowledge or experience via any one of the representative positions or Ministerial appointments. And whilst the consultation document notes “Individual councils would not be prevented from appointing…staff, students and other stakeholders”, we have little confidence that these appointments would be prioritised.
We are also concerned that the changes will further limit opportunities for women to participate in these governance structures, an issue the Government has expressed concern about.
3. What do you consider are the advantages/disadvantages of this proposal to require the Minister and councils to appoint council members capable of governing wānanga defined according to āhuatanga and tikanga Māori, and ensuring wānanga have good educational and financial performance?
The TEU notes the unique status of wānanga in the tertiary education sector, and the argument in the consultation document that current representation on wānanga council may not adequately reflect wānanga stakeholders, such as iwi. The composition of wānanga councils should be amended to enable this representation.
Whilst we support changing the broad objectives for wānanga governance to include reference to āhuatanga and tikanga Māori, we are unclear in what ways current legislative settings have prevented wānanga from appointing council members who are capable of working in accordance with these paradigms and practices. In preparing the document, it would have been helpful to have examples of the kinds of difficulties wānanga have faced that may have prevented councils from operating effectively and in accordance with tikanga and āhuatanga Māori. Nonetheless, we do support strengthening this aspect of the objectives, which will then mean that governance requirements are more closely aligned to the role and purpose of wānanga.
Regarding educational and financial performance, given the very strong business focus to the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-2019, we can only assume that the intention here is to promote the appointment of ‘professional’ board members from the commercial sector, rather than individuals who have direct experience of tertiary education. This is of concern, given that wānanga are educational institutions.
The current model with its mix of representatives from staff, students, and alumni/ae, together with expertise-based appointments and government appointments, has produced councils that are capable of governing wānanga as opposed to just commercial entities.
4. What do you consider are the advantages/disadvantages of this proposal to clarify the duties and accountabilities of individual council members?
We are anecdotally aware of instances where staff representatives on some councils have lacked appropriate support for their roles. We wonder therefore whether some analysis of this issue would establish whether better support mechanisms are required. However other than our own anecdotal evidence, we have no other evidence (from the consultation document) to indicate whether the definition of individual council member duties and accountabilities has been a problem for current councils. We therefore have no substantive information on which to base our comments. We would appreciate further information outlining this issue, so that we can make a more informed response.
Final comments about the proposal
The TEU does not support the proposal to change the model for wānanga governance, other than to include provisions to ensure representatives have the skills to govern wānanga in accordance with āhuatanga and tikanga Māori. The proposal to reduce the size and composition of wānanga will undermine other core functions, and will impact on the ability of wānanga to ensure their decision-making reflects the diversity of their communities.